The signs that you, mom, are doing too much

The signs that you, mom, are doing too much

Do you know when you are doing too much? Ok, for most parents,  it’s usually hard to tell where the line is between “I got this!” and “I’m going to have a mental breakdown.”

I am the queen of Doing Too Much. I have four sons, two of which are 3 and under, and two with special needs.

I have a husband and a house to care for. I also love to help people, volunteer, get together with friends, host parties, mentor college girls, sew, read, write and cook. Until very recently, I was a work at home mom (adjunct professor.)

I have experienced major burnout and have had to cut back on non-essentials in the past 6 months — and even some essentials — in order to regain some mental sanity, emotional peace, and physical health in my life.

If you’re flirting with that line, here are some of the signs you can look for to determine whether or not you are doing too much in your life right now:

1. You start to forget things

We all forget things, especially as we get older, and especially when we add 1-2-3-4 (or more!) kids to the mix. For me, the tipping point was when I was was using my calendar to write down activities and appointments, and I was still forgetting them. My brain was so full that it could not store any more information. I literally felt like I was losing my mind.

2. Little tasks feel overwhelming

For me, it’s the little things that put me over the edge. When my boys tell me that all their pants are in the laundry, something inside me just boils over. I am furious with myself, usually because we are already in a rush to get out the door, but mostly because I haven’t kept up with the laundry.

But on the jam-packed days, when I was juggling therapy appointments, grading papers, and evening volunteering, the sight of an overflowing laundry basket was just too much to tackle.


How to know when you're really, truly, definitely overwhelmed
Image: Brittany Meng

3. You yell all the time

Our pastor once said during a sermon, “There’s always anger in hurry.” The truth of that statement has played out time and time again in my life. When I’m too busy, I am constantly in this panicked state of “HURRY UP!” Doing too much caused me to slip into the habit of hurried anger.

4. You don’t have time to be kind

My “hurry up!” attitude was causing me to be unkind to my children on a regular basis. But even more than that, I was too exhausted and busy to be the loving person I wanted to be.

I love to cook for others, but my schedule was so full that I found myself saying, “I just can’t” when I wanted to take a meal to a mom with a new baby or have friends over for dinner.

5. You don’t have time to take care of yourself

In the blur of my busyness, I struggled to take care of myself on a basic level: Remembering to drink water, brush my teeth twice a day, wash my face in the evening, eat regular, healthy snacks. Forget exercising and scheduling doctor appointments for myself!

6. You can’t rest when you’re tired

Well, to amend #6 a bit, I wouldn’t rest when I was tired because I had too much to do! The papers HAD to be graded. The laundry HAD to be washed. (Remember? No pants!) Dinner HAD to be made. Homework HAD to be supervised.


How to know when you're really, truly, definitely overwhelmed
Image: Brittany Meng

And if I wanted to spend time with my husband or friends or fulfill my volunteering obligations (“I told them I would do it, and I will!”), then there really was no time to rest or even go to bed at a decent hour.

7. You don’t have time to do the things that make you feel like “you”

Doing things for myself, like sewing, blogging, shopping, or reading always felt like a guilty luxury, one that I probably shouldn’t indulge in because, really, there was no time for that. But when I didn’t take time to do the things that brought me joy, I felt myself slipping into depression.

I was a big, hot mess. Something had to give.

In the past few months, I have taken several very important steps to regain my sanity, health, and happiness because it really matters that I am a happy and healthy person. Here are the steps I took when I felt like I was going to lose my ever-lovin’ mind.

1. Admit it

Saying the words, “I’m doing too much” can be life-changing.

2. Reduce (if you can)

Some seasons of life are just overwhelming, like when you have a new baby or a family member has a health crisis and you are the primary caregiver. Sometimes you can’t reduce; you just have to ride it out (or see #3 below).

But sometimes, you can and should say “no.” It isn’t easy, but it’s needed. Last summer, I stepped down from a volunteer position that I loved. I didn’t want to, but I needed to let something go.

3. Ask for help

When I was in grad school, I had two college girls watch my twins and clean my house. It felt like a huge, guilty luxury, but I really needed that help while I finished my master’s degree.

Lately, asking for help has looked like enrolling my 3-year-old child in preschool last fall, teaching my older boys to load and unload the dishwasher, and coordinating with my husband on busy grading weeks to let him know that I just couldn’t “do it all” when I had 50 papers to grade.

I hate asking for help (I think we all do), but admitting that I can’t do it all by myself lifts such a burden. (Even if I feel guilty at the time.)

4. Ask yourself: Is this activity/responsibility helping me to be or become the best version of myself?

Recently, I’ve had to cut back even more, especially as Benji, my son with autism, has started weekly therapy. The stress of balancing marriage, four kids, house work, 4 appointments a week, and grading was starting to affect my mental, emotional, and physical health.

So, I made the choice to stop teaching online so that I could focus more on being the type of mother that I wanted to be, instead of a yelling, stressed, “hurry-up,” angry, half-version of myself. It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my resignation, and the other day, I asked my husband, “So, how has it been? Different?”

He nodded, “Yeah, it’s been better. You don’t seem as overwhelmed by little things. I mean, you weren’t bad before, but I can tell a difference. You’re getting better.”

I hate saying “no” to things I really want to do in my life, but at this unique season of small children with big needs, recognizing my own limitations has put me on the better path, one that leads to less stress and more rest.

Even more so, I’ve had the time to focus on the things that make me happy, such as reading, blogging, making meals for people, visiting with friends, and actually resting when I’m tired. I’m getting better. I feel like I am becoming more “me.”